Families of victims of the Ukrainian airliner shot down by Iran in January 2020 have issued a statement saying that President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is one of those who had a direct role in the tragedy, by harassing those families who seek legal recourse for losing their loved ones.
Raisi who has still not resigned as chief of Iran’s Judiciary is accused in the statement published Monday of arresting and jailing those relatives of victims who are in Iran.
The ultraconservative judge is also accused of human rights violations throughout his long career, including membership in a “death committee” that ordered the killing of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He is sanctioned by the US for rights violations and families have called for concerted action not to allow those sanctions to be lifted.
The Ukrainian International Airline flight PS752 was shot down by two anti-aircraft missiles as it took off from Tehran killing 176 people aboard, during tense hours of possible confrontation between Iran and the United States on January 8, 2020. Iran has not cooperated with countries with citizens onboard in the investigation and has not been transparent as to which officials were responsible for the tragedy.
The statement also accuses Raisi, as head of Iran’s Judiciary, to have been involved in the cover-up and keeping the investigation secret from public scrutiny.
Iran's Rouhani Says He was Not Allowed To Reach A Deal With The US
Iran’s outgoing president Hassan Rouhani has once again said that if his government had not been restricted in nuclear negotiations, sanctions would have been lifted earlier this year and the country’s battered economy would have started to recover.
In remarks on Sunday delivered at an annual meeting of the central bank, Rouhani defended his government’s economic record, reiterating that difficult conditions since 2018 “have been forced” on his administration. He was referring to the United States sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump when he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
Rouhani did not elaborate who “tied the hands and feet” of the government in nuclear talks as he put it, but earlier he had blamed legislation passed last December by his hardliner opponents in parliament who set forth tough conditions for talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.
Rouhani argued that if there were no sanctions and pandemic, Iran’s currency would be now trading for 50,000 rials to the US dollar, instead of the current rate of almost fivefold at 250,000 rials. But the rial stood at 30,000 to the dollar in 2017, before Trump’s intention to withdraw from the JCPOA became apparent. What Rouhani said in effect means that even without sanctions and the pandemic Iran’s currency would have fallen precipitously.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the rial has fallen more than 3,000-fold, from 70 rials to the dollar to 250,000.
Former Iranian Taekwondo Champion Defeats British Gold Medalist
In a stunning sports moment, former Iranian taekwondo champion and a member of the Refugee Olympics Team (ROT) Kimia Alizadeh defeated a former Gold medalist and a great British hope, Jade Jones to advance toward a medal in Tokyo.
Alizadeh, who in January 2020 denounced forced hijab, discrimination against women and government corruption, left Iran and sought refugee status in Germany. The International Olympics Committee invited her to compete as a member of ROT. This group of athletes appeared for the first time in 2016 and in the 2020 Tokyo games includes 29 displaced athletes.
Alizadeh first easily defeated her former teammate from Iran Nahid Kiani and went on to hug her coach, in an awkward moment for the Iranian national team. In her second match on Sunday, she stunned Jones in 6 minutes to the dismay of the British taekwondo coaches. After losing her third match, now she is oised to win a Bronze Medal, which would be the first for the refugee team.
Taekwondo is a codified form of traditional Korean marshal arts, which basically means kicking your opponent, especially on the head but also on the body.
Pandemic Lockdown Ineffective, While Iran Runs Out Of Remdesivir
The head of Tehran’s coronavirus task force Alireza Zali has said that the latest 8-day shutdown in the capital was ineffective and the fifth wave of the Covid pandemic has not reached its peak yet in Iran.
Speaking on television, Zali complained that the lockdown in the capital was not enforced, and most shopping centers and restaurants were open for customers. He added that to be effective, any lockdown should be between 10-14 days long and must be enforced.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Iran in February 2020, the government has instituted many lockdowns and travel bans but none has been enforced properly. With a failed vaccination effort and the new Delta variant of the virus the country is experiencing a serios spike in new cases. Zali said that currently 8797 Covid patients are hospitalized in Tehran alone.
Meanwhile, the head of health ministry’s medicine department, Haydar Mohammadi announced a shortage of remdesivir to treat Covid patients, blaming the Chinese company supplying the raw material for its delays in delivery. He also said that Iranian insurance companies and hospitals with financial problems have failed to make payments.
Mohammadi said that despite efforts to procure remdesivir from China and India, both countries have refused to help.
Iran withdrew one billion euros from its currency reserves last year to help fight the pandemic but the government later said it had received a portion of the money.
Iran Condemns UN Criticism Of Protester Deaths In Khuzestan
Iran on Saturday dismissed as meddling in its internal affairs criticism by the United Nations' human rights chief of the shooting deaths of protesters during demonstrations in Khuzestan province.
Meanwhile, rallies in support of the protests in the southwestern province of Khuzestan spread to the northwest of the country on Saturday, according to videos posted on social media.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday expressed concern about deaths and injuries and widespread detentions over the past week in oil-rich Khuzestan.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that Bachelet's "interventionist" and "non-expert and biased comments on the management of the country's water resources were not within the scope of commissioner's responsibilities".
Iranians have taken to the streets for ten days to vent their anger about water and other shortages, which have come during the country's worst drought in half a century and as the economy creaks under US sanctions and COVID-19. Protests that began for water turned into anti-government demonstrations.
Videos on social media on Friday showed marchers in the city of Aligudarz chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said on Saturday that it had been able to identify 10 killed and 102 detained. Witnesses spoke of continued heavy security presence in Khuzestan on Saturday.
"Mobile internet is still down and there are security forces everywhere," a resident of the provincial capital of Ahvaz, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Khamenei on Friday called on officials to deal with the crisis, saying people could not be blamed for protesting over water shortages, but he did not condemn violence by security forces.
Hardliner Cleric Wants To Deny Access To Internet To Prevent 'Lust'
A hardliner cleric in Iran has called on the new president Ebrahim Raisi to deny young people access to the Internet to stop the intrusion of alien cultures.
Ahmad Khatami, who is also a member of the constitutional watchdog the Guardian Council said Saturday that “When our youth have access to all the cyberspace of other countries, it means that the culture of others lives in the homes of all Iranians.
Khatami’s comment about the youth having free access contradicts the existing reality. Iran heavily censors access to the Internet by blocking tens of thousands of Iranian and other websites both for political and religious reasons. Almost every citizen uses VPNs and other software to get access to their favorite social media channels and websites for information or entertainment.
Iran has been trying to create an internal internet and social media platforms that it can easily control and censor, but so far it has not succeeded. Instagram for example, is an effective tool for small businesses to promote their products and services and receive orders.
Khatami, however, once again demanded that under Raisi the government should “domesticate” the internet, claiming that all countries have restricted access, citing the example of Russia. In fact, China has restricted access to social media and the internet. Major platforms are still available in Russia.
Khatami accused the United States of trying to instill “lust” among Iranian youth.
Political Prisoner In Iran Voices Support For Protesters, Calls For Unity
A political prisoner in Iran says that to cover up its killing of protesters in Khuzestan, the government has resorted to appeasing tribal chiefs in the province.
In an audio recording received by Iran International, Massod Vazifeh, jailed in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary since February says, “The blood of young men in Susangerd and Shadegan [cities in Khuzestan] was spelt for a bit of drinking water…But the Islamic Republic knows it cannot wipe off this dishonor from its record and has appealed to [Arab] tribes to once again cover up its murders.”
After nine days of protests in the oil-producing province, Iran’s vice president Es’haq Jahangiri met with Arab tribal leaders in Khuzestan to reduce tensions. The protests that began July 15 were triggered by severe water shortage in urban and rural areas. However, demonstrators soon began chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic and some praised the former Pahlavi dynasty.
Arabic speaking Iranians comprise a large portion of the population in the southwestern province bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and still have their tribal leaders who as elders have influence among the people.
Vazifeh asked in the recording if the blood of Arabs in Iraq and Syria is more precious that the Iranian government took resources away from its own population and gave to them. He was referring to billions of dollars the Islamic Republic has spent in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. At the end, Vazifeh has called for unity and support for the protesters.
Environmentalists Blame Chinese Companies For Draining Iran Marshes
Amid protests in Iran’s oil-producing Khuzestan Province, triggered by a severe water crisis, Iran’s Petroleum Ministry denied that it had plans to drain the Hour al-Azim marshes for oil exploration by diverting natural water flows to the area.
Kasri Nouri, head of the oil ministry’s press office on Friday told Rokna news agency that “environmentalists are talking nonsense” and the ministry “has said for years that it has no opposition to allowing more water to flow to the marshes bordering Iraq. Hour al-Azim region has substantial oil deposits and exploration as well as production has gone for years around the natural reserve.
The issue of draining the marshes started during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when in 2008 his government gave 7,500 hectares of the area to the oil ministry for exploration.
Ahmad-Reza Lahijanzadeh, a top official at Iran’s governmental Environmental Protection Organization had said in a television program on July 16 that the Japanese were ready to use special technologies in 2000s to extract oil in the marshes without environmental damage but when the Chinese came into picture, they argued that this would be very expensive.
He added that Chinese companies were able to get the permission of the Supreme National Security Council in 2010 to start exploration and production according to their own plan.
After Lahinjanzdeh’s remarks, other environmental experts also alleged that Chinese companies want to pursue their projects at minimum cost and pursue the goal of draining the marshes.
UN Rights Chief Condemns Use Of Excessive Force In Iran Protests
In a statement released Friday [July 23], the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Iranian authorities to concentrate on taking urgent action to address the chronic water shortage in the province of Khuzestan, rather than using excessive force and widespread arrests to crush the protests about the situation.
Security forces have shot dead eight citizens during protests that erupted in Iran’s Khuzestan Province on July 15, triggered by severe water shortage, and since have spread to other provinces. Tehran has deployed special riot police and has brought additional Revolutionary Guard forces to the region. Disturbing images of dead protesters are circulated on social media.
“The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the Government’s attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect,” said Bachelet. “I am extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention.”
The statement said state security forces appear to have reacted with disproportionate force against unarmed and peaceful protesters, leading to the killing of at least four individuals, including one minor, and injuries to several others. Unconfirmed reports suggest there may have been a higher number of killings, as protests have spread over the past week to at least 20 major towns and cities in Khuzestan, with further protests breaking out in support elsewhere in Iran.
Amnesty International on Friday condemned the use of live ammunition against protesters as “a horrifying violation of the authorities’ obligation to human life.”